Coors Field Humidor Making a Difference?

Many hitters are feeling a bit deflated at Coors Field these days, and most of them are just starting to figure out why. Rockies’ brass added a humidor this season to keep baseballs from drying out, and although many reporters and fans are slow in buying into its effects, On The Rox takes a closer look today.

Back in early June, I wrote to Tracy Ringolsby, Rockies beat reporter for the Rocky Mountain News, to get his opinion on whether the humidor is getting inside the heads of the Rockies hitters. I wrote to him near the end of a rough two-week stretch in which the Rockies had difficulty hitting with runners’ in scoring position. Our correspondence was then printed in the Rocky Mountain News on June 8, 2006:

Dan Boniface wants to dry things out.

Q: With the bats being about as dead as a roadside prairie dog in Boulder,
is it time to stop keeping the baseballs in the humidor at Coors Field?
Is the humidor getting into the players’ heads?

A: Dan, if the humidor is getting into their heads, then the Rockies
know those are players who need to be replaced. This team has the
basics to be a good hitting team, not just a power-hitting team like
the Blake Street Bombers. The Bombers were fun to watch, but let’s not
forget they never won more than 83 games in a season so they were not a
challenge for the ’27 Yankees. They were more a remake of the Southside
Hit Men of Bob Lemon and Bill Veeck 30 years ago. This offense showed
what it is capable of on the road and at home in April. Now comes the
real test of which of these players are strong enough to take the
negatives of the last month and rebuild. It is all part of what this
season is about in trying to see which players fit long-term and which
don’t.

Mr. Ringolsby, I agree that this season is a good test to see who belongs long-term on this Rockies team, and who doesn’t. And the ability to play 81 games in Coors Field without buying into its hype is essential for any Rockies player who plans on being in a Rockies uniform for a while. I guess I just find it unbelievable that we are even discussing the notion that hitters are finding the Coors Field confines rather unfriendly. Usually this has been the plight of the pitchers. But here we are.

I will have to research further to figure out the overall team ERA differences this season, but I thought at least we could compare the career stats of two longtime Rockies players, pitcher Jason Jennings and first baseman Todd Helton.

Over the course of Todd Helton’s potentially-Hall-of-Fame career, he has historically hit better at home than on the road. Is it because Helton gets up for his hometown crowd, or is it because of the famed mile-hile air? Or a coincidence? This season his home average is far lower than usual, while his road average is near his norm. While you’ll mainly notice that Helton’s power numbers are slipping over the last few years, this season’s drop in average at home could be due to his illness early this year…or could it be the humidor? Helton has never hit below .353 at home since 2001, and he could get back there this year with a good second half. Here are the numbers:

2006 Home YTD: 12 2B, 6 HR, 27 RBI, .306
2006 Away YTD: 8 2B, 5 HR, 20 RBI, .278

2005 Home: 26 2B, 13 HR, 52 RBI, .353
2005 Away: 19 2B, 7 HR, 27 RBI, .287

2004 Home: 23 2B, 21 HR, 60 RBI, .368
2004 Away: 26 2B, 11 HR, 36 RBI, .326

2003 Home: 27 2B, 23 HR, 72 RBI, .391
2003 Away: 22 2B, 10 HR, 45 RBI, .324

2002 Home: 22 2B, 18 HR, 65 RBI .378
2002 Away: 17 2B, 12 HR, 44 RBI, .281

2001 Home: 31 2B, 27 HR, 84 RBI, .384
2001 Away: 23 2B, 22 HR, 62 RBI, .286

Jason Jennings’ numbers are also an interesting case study. His ERA is lower at home than on the road for only the second time in his career (2003 being the other). His home ERA is under 4 for the first time ever, and his road ERA is in the low 4’s this year. His 2001 numbers were excluded because Jennings didn’t make enough starts. Check out the numbers:

2006 Home YTD: 7 HR Allowed, 3.48 ERA
2006 Away YTD: 6 HR Allowed, 4.21 ERA

2005 Home: 5 HR Allowed, 5.15 ERA
2005 Away: 6 HR Allowed, 4.87 ERA

2004 Home: 16 HR Allowed, 6.15 ERA
2004 Away: 11 HR Allowed, 4.86 ERA

2003 Home: 8 HR Allowed, 4.64 ERA
2003 Away: 12 HR Allowed, 5.38 ERA

2002 Home: 18 HR Allowed, 5.65 ERA
2002: Away: 8 HR Allowed, 3.35 ERA

ON THE ROX ANALYSIS
These numbers seem to point to a shift at Coors Field from a hitter’s haven, to a pitcher’s paradise. But pinning this solely on the humidor may be a bit premature. Here are a few other factors to consider:

– Maybe the MLB crackdown on steroids has something to do with the power outage.
– Maybe it’s just a statistical anomaly.
– Maybe the Rockies starting pitchers are just that much better this season.

If you ask Rockies players or management, they’ll tell you the humidor definitely plays a role. Mike DeJean was quoted on MLB.com saying he felt like he could get a better grip and better movement on a ball kept in the humidor, and that the pre-humidor balls were dry, hard and slick. Advantage: Pitchers.
Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said in a press conference that the humidor "definitely makes a difference in how the park plays," adding that it was leveling the playing field for pitchers and hitters. And with the fences remaining incredibly far out (415 in center field) from the steroid/pre-humidor era, the park is undeniably playing differently.
The bottom line is, playing home games in a pitcher’s friendly park is an advantage for the Rockies in this post-steroids era of Major League Baseball. Baseball is slowly returning to the traditional small-ball style, with a great focus on the little things. Building a team that can hit for average, hit in the clutch, pitch well and play solid defense will only benefit the Rox in the long run as they can play the same style at home and on the road, and don’t have to sit back and wait for the three-run homer.
Look for your Rox of the future to make things happen on the basepaths, rather than living and dying by the longball. Good pitching and good defense will take the Rox to the wire this season. You heard it here at On The Rox, where our glass is always half-full.

Daniel Boniface is a freelance writer in Boulder, Colorado. Contact: dbonif@aol.com. You can subscribe to On The Rox at http://www.newsgator.com, or find it online at: rox.mlblogs.com.

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